From first-five down to the midtable
The Magic of the Cup came as a blessing to the parishioners of Vicarage Road. Their convincing 3-0 win over Bristol City (an avenging of their 3-2 loss in the same stadium in the EFL Cup back in August) was their best result since back-to-back wins against West Ham and Newcastle in November.
From the start of the season until mid-October, Marco Silva’s side was riding high – though perhaps not as high as the other ‘small club-big story’ story Burnley – their only loss a 6-0 drubbing against Manchester City.
Then came three losses on the bounce followed by two wins on the bounce, West Ham and Newcastle. And then the collapse. In the last nine league games, Watford has picked up only four points. Carry that on for a whole season and you’d be on course for 17 points or the joint third worst record in Premier League history.
What happened in that first eight games that’s different from the past nine?
Two things, the twins foundations of all football: performance and conversion.
Shooting to fourth
In their first eight games, over half of all of Watford’s shots on targets were going in, a flow of goals that are simply going to run a little drier over a longer period of time.
Their opponents were scoring pretty freely too, though, with nearly 40% of their shots on targets going in, but this includes Man City’s win where they scored six from ten SoTs.
If you take that game out of both sides of Watford’s opening eight, they were scoring 56% of their shots on target; their opponents only 30%, which is a smidge below the usual average of 1 in 3.
Watford wasn’t bad during this period at all. In those games (the first eight minus being stomped on by City), they broke even on shots on target, taking and conceding 23.
This, you’d imagine, would be a relatively solid mid-table standard – perfectly fine for a club who’ve only been back in the league for a couple of years and had changed managers in the summer – but far below the fourth place that they found themselves in at the time.
The barren run
In their most recent nine games, they and their opponents have both been scoring their shots on target at similar rates – 39% for Watford and 40% for their opponents.
Both are a little above the general average, but that may just be the way that Watford games this season go – goals and goals and goals. Watford’s games have seen 71 goals so far this season, the third most in the league behind only Manchester City and Liverpool.
Unsurprisingly, Watford was no longer keeping level with their (non-Manchester City) opponents with their shots on target.
In fact, movement happened in both directions – Watford’s shots on target per game moving down from 3.3 in games 1-8 (excluding the City game) to 2.6 in games 14 to 22; their opponents’ shooting up from 3.3 to 5.2.
There’s something that Watford fans can take solace in though, which isn’t to do with on-field stats at all. Yet.
The way that the Premier League has shaped up at the present time allows you to neatly divide fixtures into three categories (which I’ve used previously, for example here).
Category 1 (the easiest) games are home ties against the ‘Other 14’, ie anyone other than the Manchester, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, and Tottenham. Clubs should be looking at these as where they’ll get most of their points.
Category 2 are away ties against the Other 14 and home games against the Top 6, slightly harder but still winnable games, and Category 3 is the small bunch of away fixtures on Top 6 sides.
After 22 games, Watford has already had nearly all of their Category 2 fixtures (15 of 20) and only four of their fourteen Category 1 games. While they still have four away trips to the Top 6 to come, this imbalance of home/away ties against the rest of the league in the first part of the season should mean that their remaining months are marginally kinder to them.
Watford fans, despite their sides current high position, might still be looking over their shoulders, and games 14-22 give them a reason to be a little concerned, but the way the fixture schedule works out should give them a degree of comfort.
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